Poet, Novelist, and Critic
The Oxford Professor of Poetry
Professorship of Poetry: Ian Gregson
I want to stand for the Professorship of Poetry to address the major issue facing contemporary poetry, which is, nonetheless, the one most shunned in the poetry world: how poetry has suffered, in recent decades, a catastrophic loss of cultural prestige and popularity.
Poetry isn’t dead, or even dying, but it is being relegated to the status of a geeky, minority pursuit. The decline is not mostly the fault of poets. It has been driven by astonishing changes in the culture, especially over the past thirty years. This is a turning point: five hundred years, in which poetry and indeed the poet played a central role in the culture, are at an end. You could, now, be as talented but self-destructive as Dylan Thomas, or you could fight a corrosive but symptomatic gender battle like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, but go unnoticed.
Poetic difficulty is regarded with suspicion in the twenty-first century in a way that it wasn’t in the 1920s, when a large readership tackled The Waste Land. Eliot’s poem acquired enormous currency and influenced everyone with intellectual interests. Its rebarbative content and form were regarded with respect and fascination.
But such features are now distrusted in poetry, following a radical shift in sensibility. The initiating factor was the rise of popular culture to a position of dominance in the 1960s. Television in particular shaped a crucial shift in which the visual took the upper hand over the verbal, and thus, the literary.
The most damaging changes for poetry, however, came in the 1980s, when television was joined by the new media. It is not the content of the internet that’s the problem but its form. No matter how many poems are mounted on the web, the sensibility it creates is indifferent to poetry. This is a medium which ranks words below images, and delivers those images at great speed. It is the opposite of poetry, which, in this context, is made to seem ponderously slow, atavistically verbal, and snobbishly inaccessible.
I would use the high profile of the Oxford Professorship of Poetry to draw attention to the marginal status of contemporary poetry. In suggesting how poetry can be brought back into the centre of the culture, I will draw on my experience as an established poet and novelist, and as a cultural critic. I have two substantial collections of poetry with Salt (and a third forthcoming with Parthian). For these, I was shortlisted for the Forward prize, received a Gregory award, and was poet of the week by the Guardian in 2014. My two novels are with Cinnamon Press, and I have published six monographs on contemporary writing. My poems, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the LA Times, the THES, the TLS, and Guardian, as well as in poetry world publications like the North, Poetry Review, and Poetry Wales. Samples of my work can be seen on my website:
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